Although Valerie Plame was the star of the hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the prize for the best supporting role goes to James Knodell, White House Director of the Office of Security. He was rolled out today to take the hit from the Committee investigating the outing of the CIA operative. Valerie Plame appeared willingly, anxious to finally have the opportunity to tell her story. The White House allowed Knodell to appear only under threat of subpoena; otherwise he would have been able to continue to follow White House policy to just say no.
Valerie Plame confirmed her status as a CIA undercover agent before her outing. As a credible witness, she was treated carefully by the one Republican at the hearing, Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA). She also testified that columnist Robert Novak, who was the first to publish her name, had had several days to vet the information about her before disclosing it. She told her supervisor at the CIA that he might publish her name; he sent a memo up the chain. The chain is supposed to end at the desk of the potential leaker and prevent the leak from occurring. She doesn’t know what happened to that document, and neither, it appears, does anyone else. It fell into the same black hole that the unlawful combatants do. Let’s call it extraordinary rendition of evidence.
The most startling revelation came when Henry Waxman (D-CA), committee chair, asked Knodell about how the White House investigated the Plame leak when it first occurred. It was assumed that there had been some kind of internal, even if informal, questioning after the initial uproar. Alas, why would they take Bush at his word? Even four years ago, lying was not a new activity for him, though it seems to be one of the few things he does well. But to the great consternation of the committee, no investigation, formal or otherwise, has ever been undertaken, despite Bush’s public pledge to “get to the bottom of these leaks.” The only leaks the Bushies investigate are those that reveal their ineptitude, their illegal or quasi-legal activities, or their malevolence.
Knodell first claimed that since his tenure didn’t start until a year after the Plame outing, he wouldn’t have been involved. Once that was dispensed with, he was forced to explain that well, yes he was briefed by his predecessor, but the Plame case was not part of the briefing and it never came up. Further, since then, he has never been asked to undertake any investigation. When asked why he didn’t pursue it himself, since it turns out he does have that authority, he couldn’t answer the question. Under oath, Knodell said there has never been any report of the Plame outing even though under law his office is required to file a report if they are aware of any violation of security. Surely, this counts as a breach all concurred. He will “take it up with his superiors and get back to them,” he told the committee.
What was apparent early in his testimony was that Knodell had been sent on a mission to take another fall for illegal and/or inept activities of the Bush White House. Mission Accomplished. When Eleanor Holmes Norton states the obvious, Knodell looks stoic but doesn’t break.
But it is the emerging Republican defense strategy that is what we should be watching. Tom Davis, minority chair of the committee, tried to show how the chain of command at the CIA was responsible for not protecting Plame. The memo that shows Plame’s supervisor’s attempts to stop the wheels is on record; apparently it was part of the Libby trial proceedings. The Republicans will try to blame the CIA and when that fight is over, they will have bought some more time. The next defense will be to claim executive privilege. See, there’s a footnote in all the legalese that Republicans claim says that the President can pretty much do whatever he wants. He can declare a document classified, the next day at whim, declare in unclassified, and then a week later reclassify it.
It all boils down to the neo-con theory of unitary executive—the executive privilege of GWB and none other – surely no other president had such “privilege.” This Administration is sure to milk it dry until legal suits are filed and the Supreme Court gets involved. And it will. Yes, the same Supreme Court that brought us GWB to begin with is going to wind up ruling on his ultimate authority to arbitrarily make and break the rules. Whether the Justices will be as ‘loyal’ as Gonzales remains to be seen, and whether they get to that point before or after Bush has left office is the question.
© 2007 Lynne Glasner